Walt Disney World Resort is known for its thrilling attractions, beloved characters and nighttime spectaculars, but what clients may not know is that the resort’s annual festivals provide four more reasons to visit Orlando, Fla., each year.
Walt Disney World’s seasonal events — Epcot International Festival of the Arts, Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and Epcot International Festival of the Holidays — feature specialty food and beverages, unique activities, themed decor and musical performances.
“Epcot is an amazing destination to experience Disney in different ways throughout the year,” said Javier Moreno, senior vice president of sales for Disney Destinations. “That’s a twist [travel] advisors can adapt to create experiences through specific lenses that resonate for clients — which is a big part of making a vacation successful.”
Upon a Star Travel & Concierge founder Jennifer Novotny agrees.
“Epcot festivals are perks of traveling during certain times of the year,” she said. “We certainly have families travel specifically for festivals, but even if it isn’t the main purpose for the trip, the many special additions to the park make it a highlight.”
Epcot International Festival of the Arts
Visual, culinary and performing arts are all celebrated during this winter festival, with more than 100 Disney and visiting artists presenting their work. Clients can also learn to draw a Disney character at Animation Academy and even step into iconic masterpieces at Artful Photo Ops locations.
“Festival of the Arts is a great family-friendly festival,” said Novotny of Upon a Star Travel. “The chalk exhibits and create-your-own spin art have been highlighted as must-dos by our clients.”
Olivia Rappa, an advisor for Small World Vacations, notes that families with young kids will particularly appreciate the festival’s interactive elements.
“My kids love being able to participate in painting the mural, chalk art and the fun treats — including a cookie you can paint,’” she said.
The festival’s Disney on Broadway concerts feature live performances by stars from award-winning Disney stage productions such as “Aladdin,” “Mary Poppins,” “Frozen,” and “The Lion King.” Novotny says she has had clients plan trips specifically to see their favorite Broadway stars, and advises booking dining packages to ensure travelers get the best seats in the house.
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
In addition to farm-to-table style food, this springtime festival features themed gardens — including a charming English tea garden in the United Kingdom Pavilion, a Tuscan kitchen garden in the Italy Pavilion and a meticulously-manicured bonsai garden in the Japan Pavilion.
“We tend to think of Flower & Garden as more adult, but the Spike the Bee scavenger hunt is a great way to keep kids engaged,” Novotny said. “Our photographer clients also love this festival; between the beautiful greenery and the Butterfly Garden, there are spectacular photo ops.”
The highlight of this event is the Disney character topiaries (many displayed where their stories take place), such as Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog” in The American Adventure Pavilion, Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” in the France Pavilion and the cute pups from “Lady and the Tramp” in the Italy Pavilion. This year, a new collection of topiaries depicting the Madrigal family from “Encanto” welcomed guests at Epcot’s entrance.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Epcot’s longest event showcases global flavors, with food marketplaces from six continents offering tasty delicacies throughout the park.
While noting that kids always enjoy Epcot, Novotny says this event is particularly great for "adults who Disney," including parents taking a Disney trip without kids, and friend groups composed of major foodies.
But according to Rebecca Hejna of Small World Vacations, it’s not just adults who love the food at Epcot’s festivals. As a mom with teens, she says her family’s favorite way to spend a day at the festival is to hop to each food booth.
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“My picky eater always finds something he normally would never order — and ends up loving it — and my adventurous eater has a blast finding items he has yet to experience.”
Clients can also "eat to the beat" of live musical performances and participate in food-related experiences such as the “Ratatouille"-inspired Emile's Fromage Montage, which encourages cheese lovers to sample inventive cheese dishes.
"Orlando provides unique year-round experiences that can drive repeat visitation," said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. "Seasonal events such as the Food & Wine Festival open the doors to other food-centric events at our destination, including the Food & Wine Classic at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort.”
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
Showcasing holiday foods, music and traditions from around the world, this popular festival allows clients to experience Disney twists on their favorite holidays while learning about international celebrations they may know less about.
“Epcot is a park where people connect through exploration of new cultures and traditions to celebrate ways we are unique, while taking comfort and pride in ways we are one global community,” said Jodi Bainter, director of travel agency sales for Disney Destinations.
Festival of the Holidays also features Disney’s beloved Candlelight Processional, which takes place from late November through December — unlike Disneyland's two-day version — with musicians and choral performers accompanying an extensive roster of celebrity narrators telling the story of Christmas.
However, what Novotny hears about most from clients is the event’s famous holiday cookie stroll — and that’s for a good reason, according to Bainter.
“Agents know their clients, and they know what they like to do,” Bainter said. “Festivals are great ways to bring guests to something they didn't even have on the radar. It's a really special experience — something to slow down a little bit and enjoy.”